"This is a necessary, worthwhile investment," U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden said in a ceremony marking the start of work on the 127-year-old New York City bridge, the first steel-wire suspension span that was also the longest suspension bridge in the world for 20 years.
"This bridge is an emblem of what this great country represents," said Biden, joined by Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Standing in front of a dilapidated access ramp, Biden said Wednesday the Brooklyn Bridge and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge were "the two most-recognized bridges in the United States of America and among the most-recognized bridges in the world -- and being here to help restore this iconic bridge is a pretty neat thing," WNBC-TV, New York, reported.
A state inspection three years ago rated the bridge "poor," but officials said it was safe, WNBC said.
The four-year refurbishment will give the bridge a fresh coat of paint, wider approach ramps and new bridge decks. It was last painted in 1991.
Some lanes will be closed during parts of the day until the work is completed. But a pedestrian and bicycle walkway will remain open.
The 1.1-mile bridge, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, carries 120,000 cars each day.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, the bridge was used by tens of thousands of pedestrians fleeing Manhattan for Brooklyn after subway service was suspended.